Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

January 2011

Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter January 2011

We’re Only As Happy As Our Unhappiest Child by Ben Snyder, Head of Upper School


I remember the day our daughter Abby (now 21 and a senior in college) was cut from a soccer team at age 12. She had been with the club for a couple of years, enjoyed the game, seemingly had improved, worked hard, and developed healthy friendships with her teammates. Her coach was a good guy – an old friend, in fact – and he made a hard decision that he thought was right for his team. In Abby’s moment of abject sadness (anyone with a daughter that age has seen those tears that come only with rejection), I was reminded of an adage I had just heard: as parents we are only as happy as our unhappiest child. 

Our temptation as parents in that moment was to pick up the phone and call her coach – or dash off an angry e-mail. Abby had been hurt, and emotionally, it felt as though we needed to run to her rescue by pointing the finger at someone who clearly didn’t appreciate or understand her abilities as we (and she) saw them. That instinct to run to our children’s protection and support is so powerful that it takes enormous restraint not to lash out when we see our children upset. Her tears made us as unhappy as she was, and somehow we felt entitled (and even obligated) to "do something about it."

I’m not sure why (maybe it came from all my years of coaching), but we held back from rushing to her defense. On some level we knew it wouldn’t make any difference, but my hope is that as parents we wanted her to learn how to persevere through her disappointments and know that her parents were not going to fight her battles for her. So once the tears dried and the sobs settled to normal breathing, the three of us talked. We talked about why she was upset. We talked about soccer – and how she felt about playing the game. We talked about losing things that are important to us and how to find ways to work through those losses. We talked about team sports and how coaches sometimes have to make hard decisions based upon what they think is best for the team. We talked about how proud we were of her - of how hard she had worked as a member of the team and how pleased we were with how much she had improved over the last few years. And we hugged a lot.

On the soccer front, the story has a pretty mixed ending (the good news - Abby found another club that she loved, played six years at Nobles and got in a year of college soccer; the bad news is she sustained some devastating injuries and had a rough end to her college career). But looking back, we feel that our not rushing in and responding emotionally to her unhappiness may have been one of those times we did a good thing as parents. Abby now knows that when something doesn’t go her way, she has the ability to work through it herself. She has enough self awareness to know that she’s not always going to be the "top" kid and that hard work and passion can make up for a lot. She knows that we love and support her unconditionally. 

On that pivotal day for all of us, Sarah and I learned the importance of stopping to think and talk something through together before taking action against someone or something that has caused our child pain – that good parenting often is not allowing our children’s emotions to dictate our behavior.

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